Trauma of times may be soothed with massage


Photo by Luz Rico

Victor Rico training his staff in Trigger Point Therapy

By Joe Casey Moreno, Staff Writer

The sun had just crested the trees on an early morning drive through the back hills of McHenry County when a truly mysterious event unfolded. The music was cranked, my version of car karaoke was on full tilt, the cold winter air ruffled my hair through cracked windows. Then tears started streaming down my face until my cheeks were glistening. Chills went through my body as I tried to pinpoint this unfamiliar feeling. Oh my God, I thought to myself. I feel Joy! Joy, a sweet friend of hope, trust and faith. I laughed and cried and sang my heart out as I reveled in the moment.

It was a feeling I’d lost familiarity with through the tumultuous waters of 2020. For a lot longer than that really. It took me a minute to realize why or how this moment of release had been gifted to me. Then it hit me. I’d done something the day before I’d never done before. On a quest for a good story in the field of mental health care, I found myself face-down under a sheet in a darkened room with the peaceful sounds of nature and celestial orchestration. More importantly, my body found the hands of a true muscle whisperer doing something I didn’t expect. A long longed for healing was about to occur.

The hands belonged to Victor Rico, owner with his wife Luz, of Harmony Falls Massage Clinic in Woodstock, Il. While I’ve experienced a wide variety of massage from around the world over the years, this was something entirely different. It is called Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy or Trigger Point Massage. It involves applying expertly exerted pressure to dozens (even hundreds) of “trigger points” or tight tender spots in contracted muscles. They are littered throughout the entire body. As the brochure states, these trigger points “develop from stress, overuse of a muscle, accidents/trauma and no stretching before physical activities.” Anyone have a stressful year? Everyone?

I spoke with Victor after our first session about the process. “When one muscle gets really tight, your other muscles compensate for it to take the pressure off of it and you end up with all these knots all over your body and they just keep getting worse and more knotted up to the point where you can’t turn your head. You get headaches, shooting pain everywhere. Your body just feels like its falling apart.”

These muscular compensations create what is referred to as a trigger point. As Victor describes it, “It’s just a bundle of nerve and muscle fibers all wound up into a little tiny ball, like a ball of yarn.”

In a healthy state, muscle fibers are meant to be parallel, aligned and smooth. Victor continued, “Whenever you tear that muscle you get a micro-tear that you don’t feel or see. The body creates scar tissue to patch it up, but it doesn’t heal it. That same tear opens up over and over again, adding layers of scar tissue with muscle fibers tangled up with toxins and nerves. This little ball can be pea, marble or golf-ball sized. I even had a client with a baseball sized trigger point in his shoulder blade for two years,” which Victor was able to work out after a few sessions.

Harmony Falls Massage Clinic has been in Woodstock for 20 years. In February of 2020, the previous owner retired and Victor saw his vision of owning his own massage clinic come true. By March the paperwork was done and his journey was about to begin. At the same time Covid-19 began closing down the country. “Covid gave me time to come in here and fix up the place and give it a whole new look, that’s what it really needed.”

By June the doors were safe to open. “It was a little slow at first. We had three therapists and we were doing 40 massages a week. Six months later we have seven therapists an we’re seeing 70-80 appointments a week.” This type of growth during a global pandemic demonstrates its status as an essential service that is truly helping people get through these trying times.

The staff is kind and accommodating. An intake form was filled out online prior to arrival and I waited in the car until the waiting room was empty and they were ready to receive me. They’re taking Covid-19 precautions seriously and I felt very safe. Masks were worn by everyone, myself included. The environment is peaceful. The massage room is darkened, warm and inviting. What Victor does next is where the normal massage experience ends and the transcendence begins.

He begins to whisper to your muscles with his hands, elbows and fingers. After warming up the muscles with a light massage, his hands begin to zero in on those little spots. The trigger points. This is where Victor’s expertise becomes apparent. He knows where they are and he knows exactly how much to engage with them. As Victor experiences it: “What I feel when I’m hitting that trigger point, I feel a wall. I get as deep as I can, right on top of it. It’s like riding a mechanical bull. You have to sit right on top of it and not fall off. The harder you push, the more it wants to push you out. The whole trick with Trigger Point is trying to maintain balance on top of it, with enough pressure. Get it to the point where it opens up without you falling off of it. The muscle fiber opens up, lets you in and untangles.”

This occurred with a gentle, soft communication between us of my pain level and his pressure level. We quickly worked out a system of taking my pain level to a 7 (on a scale of 1-10) while he adjusted his pressure accordingly. After the first 10 minutes there was mostly silence as we communicated through breath. There was a high level of intuition involved. When a knot in the muscle was found he would engage. “You can’t let the muscle tell you what to do. You have to tell the muscle what to do. I feel like I’m the muscle whisperer in a way. I can talk to the muscle and sometimes I will. It always open up. I always win.”

Under his care, my trigger points slowly melted into warm butter and disappeared. He would continue his journey until the next point was located. I could sense his excitement when he found a good deep knot and he would even celebrate with a little giggle and an “all right” when they would release. As Victor explains it, “I go into this place of peace and zen. I’m there. It’s almost like meditating in a way, but with my eyes open. I’m not thinking of anything. I’m not seeing anything, I’m just feeling. Sometimes I’m on a spot for five minutes and I’m just feeling. It’s like time has completely stopped for 10, 20, 50 minutes. To me, it feels like 5 minutes and really it’s been an hour. It’s amazing, there’s this connection of energy.”

It wasn’t until afterwards I found out he wasn’t using hot stones. His hands felt hot out of the oven with energy. For the sake of novelty I went with the CBD massage oil add-on which helps reduce inflammation and provides relief for chronic pain, arthritis, joints and muscles. It was heavenly. He worked his way throughout my back, neck and spine. On to the arms, head and legs. Though he went slightly over our 90 minute session, when it was over, I could have gone for another 12 hours. This was not a brutal attack on my body. This was a gentle, wise and at times out-of-body transcendent experience.

One thing became abundantly clear during this wild ride that is 2020. At 45 years of age, my body has decided to offer some blaring evidence of imbalances though the gift of physical pain. All of a sudden my joints were hurting everywhere. My knees, elbows and ankles demanded I take it easy. My hands began to feel arthritic within a two month period, barely able to open a jar or pinch things. This was no slow onslaught. It was like I aged a decade overnight.

I’m not alone. In my own circle of friends and family, I’m seeing the evidence of the trauma we’re all living through right now, manifesting in all sorts of ways: open-heart surgery, an emergency room visit, loss of hearing and a scary irreversible diagnosis to name a few. Some family members haven’t made it through. While pain doesn’t feel like a gift, it is an important communication that should not be ignored. I am not ready or willing to accept a fate of continual, decrepit decline.

This Trigger Point Therapy session has expanded my focus from mainly working on my mental health, to a more holistic approach. Working on the physical body. It has shifted my focus from going it alone, to finding a great team. From healing the inside, to healing the outside. It has opened a floodgate of hope. This lifetime of emotional turmoil has taken a toll on my body and through the body, it needs to get worked out. No amount of meditation was going to release the amount of tension that was released in less than two hours under Victor’s care. The body holds everything we’ve gone through. With each twisted muscle, toxins unite and optimal flow decreases. It’s a domino effect that results in ever increasing dis-ease.

As with anything in life, Trigger Point Therapy isn’t a one and done scenario. It’s a gradual process. According to Victor, depending on the person, it can take 3-10 sessions every 2-4 weeks to get the body back into its 100% knot-free happy place. Once the body is brought into balance, into a state of well-being and flow, Victor recommends having a session once a month or so for the sake of maintenance. Life isn’t going to stop throwing stress at us and we have to stay on top of it. “Even twice a year is better than not doing it.”

Your body may also need complimentary assistance, such as a chiropractor, to push some bones back in place. I was surprised to find out I likely had a few rear ribs out of place, which is apparently quite common. As Victor educated me, “Getting those ribs back in place allows your whole body to function normal. Every organ in the body is so important. If they’re not getting the right supply of blood and oxygen to them, they’re not going to work right. Your stomach, your pancreas, your gall bladder, your adrenal glands. All that stuff gets effected by a pinched nerve. A lot of times, if all you’re doing is getting rid of the muscle tension and all of those trigger points, but you’re not putting those bones back in place, you’re never going to get to 100%. If I feel ribs out of place, I’m going to get you to a chiropractor eventually. If I feel that you’re in a lot of pain and you’re hurting, I want to get you out of pain. I want you to feel better. I would want someone to do that for me and I know people who can do that.”

Victor referred me to his personal chiropractor whom he has his full faith in. I found this to be reassuring that Victor’s goal was to help me heal. Even if it meant sending me down the road. It takes a village.

Victor knows Trigger Point Massage works because he uses it himself. “I’ve been getting Trigger Point Massage every 2-4 weeks for years. I’ve been there, when I didn’t get them before. I was in pain day and night, every day, every night. I just sucked it up, I had no other choice. I decided to really take health serious and practice what I preach. As far as lifting, exercising, yoga, stretching and massage, chiropractic. You do all those things, put them together and I’m telling you. You have a recipe for a long-lasting young life. You just feel great. It’s good stuff.”

If he has his way, a lot more people are going to receive the benefits of this amazing therapy. “I would love to do this my whole life, but physically, I can’t see myself 50, 60, 70 years old working on people still. I thought, well, what if I teach Trigger Point and what if I get my own massage clinic and then teach my therapists how to do it. Then I don’t have to do all the work. For the last three years that’s all I could think about.”

He’s well on his way. “We’re blessed we have some of the best massage therapists in McHenry County in this place. That’s how excited I am. That’s the nice thing about us here, we’re a team. We all bring something to the table. We’re not a spa, I don’t want to be considered a spa. We’re clinical. Helping people is #1. Making people feel better is my #1 goal. We want to be known as the Trigger Point clinic.”

I am not a doctor and results differ for all (if you’re concerned, seek medical advice before taking on a new treatment). I was in the right place at the right time in my healing journey to meet Victor. I’m eating healthy and letting go of things that no longer serve me.

I asked Victor if there was a type of person this wasn’t for. For instance, a person in their 70’s who has extraordinary pain from arthritis or fibromyalgia who has never had a massage or is afraid of a massage. Perhaps their body is in constant pain or they have an acute case of modesty. Can they be helped ? “Most people can take a one or a two (on that 1-10 pain scale) if you explain to them why you’re doing it and what you’re going to feel afterwards. Even if they’ve never had a massage before and they’re a little modest. You can also work the trigger points over clothes too. With communication, trust and progression, the client will often open up and be more comfortable and receptive.”

Before I left Harmony Falls, I’d committed to my next appointment with Victor in two weeks time. As I put the finishing touches on this story a week has passed since my first session. While the initial wave of euphoria and joy has waned to a more normal baseline, I still feel better, looser, a little younger. More importantly I have hope.

As Victor states, this is a process and I’ve only just begun. I feel like I’ve gotten a little part of myself back. A part of myself that went missing decades ago. That scared inner-child is feeling it might be safe to come out and feel joy again. We all have such powerful gifts to offer the world, sadly they’re often deeply hidden, buried in layers of pain. Victor’s right, “I think everybody deserves a little bit of love to the muscles because nobody thinks about it. Give them some love, because they’ve been loving you your whole life. Take care of them, they need it.”